Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Craig Stammen nearly threw a no-hitter in his last start at Syracuse.
But who will that pitcher be?
The Nats don't have to make the decision right away. Thanks to Thursday's scheduled off-day, they can get by with only four starters (keeping everyone on normal rest) for a little while. Luis Atilano goes tonight against the Royals, with Stephen Strasburg pitching tomorrow's series finale. J.D. Martin, Livan Hernandez and Atilano will start in Baltimore this weekend, and Strasburg will take his traveling rodeo to Atlanta on Monday.
So the Nationals won't need a fifth starter until one week from today (June 29) against the Braves. They'll go with an eight-man bullpen in the interim.
Once the time comes to make another move, Mike Rizzo appears to have three options: Craig Stammen, Matt Chico and Ross Detwiler. Let's take a closer look at all three...
The right-hander was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse on June 6, the unfortunate soul who had to be removed from the roster to make room for Strasburg. Stammen had been highly inconsistent during his two months in the rotation, but he ended on a high note, allowing just one run on seven hits and needing only 66 pitches to get through 6 2/3 innings against the Reds that afternoon.
How has Stammen done since the demotion? Quite well. His first start at Syracuse was a little more typical of his average start in the majors (four runs, eight hits allowed in 6 1/3 innings) but his second start was fantastic. Pitching the first game of a doubleheader -- they only play seven innings in the minors in these cases -- he came within one out of recording a no-hitter against the Gwinnett Braves. Stammen wound up allowing two hits and one walk. More importantly, he recorded 12 of 21 outs on groundballs, a good sign his sinker was working.
"Stammen worked on a few things when we sent him down to Triple-A," Rizzo said yesterday. "He was throwing much cleaner innings, much better sinker, much more effective breaking balls. Got back to trusting his stuff, pounding the strike zone. The reports on his couple outings were very, very positive."
Stammen is scheduled to start tomorrow against Charlotte. He could easily slide into the Nats' vacant rotation slot by taking one extra day of rest after this next start.
The Nationals summoned Chico to the majors last month when they needed a spot starter, and he did an admirable job, holding the Marlins to two runs over five innings. The left-hander has been pretty consistently effective at both Harrisburg and Syracuse this season, posting a combined 3.51 ERA in 13 starts and holding opponents to a .267 average.
Chico also is coming off his best outing of the year, holding Gwinnett scoreless for 6 1/3 innings on Saturday, striking out four while walking none. He's shown good command, issuing more than two walks only once in eight starts at Syracuse.
Like Stammen, Chico lines up well to take over Lannan's rotation spot. He's next due to start Thursday and could start next week in Atlanta on normal rest.
Of the three candidates, Detwiler easily has the most upside, and the Nationals are itching to get their 2007 first-round pick back in the big-league rotation again. But the left-hander still hasn't made a complete recovery from the hip surgery that derailed his season. He's perfectly healthy now; he just hasn't built up his stamina and arm strength yet.
Detwiler made three starts on a rehab assignment, one at Potomac and two at Harrisburg. He's allowed only one run in 10 2/3 innings, striking out 10 and walking three. Impressive numbers.
Still, he has yet to throw more than four innings at a time this season. Obviously, that's not enough. So even though he was reinstated from the DL yesterday, Detwiler was immediately optioned to Harrisburg so he can continue his progression. It may not take long, though, before he's ready. Perhaps two more starts in the minors, and he'll be good to go six innings in the big leagues.
"We want to see him get a little more arm strength, get his velocity up to where it needs to be for him to compete successfully up here," Rizzo said. "Once he's ready, we'll certainly consider him to come up."